January 28: One Day in Fremantle

In a brave move in support of the #changethedate movement, in August 2016 the Fremantle Council voted to cancel Australia Day fireworks usually held on 26 January in sensitivity to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Instead, along with a group of traditional owners they organised One Day in Fremantle, an alternative, inclusive festival on 28 January 2017.

Noongar Elder Richard Walley OAM. © Tammy Solonec
Noongar Elder Richard Walley OAM. © Tammy Solonec

This decision met backlash from various local businesses, as well as the Western Australian and Federal governments but the Council stood strong, with overwhelming support from Aboriginal and Torres strait Islander communities. The decision helped garner increased media attention and conversations about changing the date of Australia Day and was a resounding success with over 15,000 in attendance.

The day started with a healing ceremony at the RoundHouse, the first building in the Swan River Colony – a prison for Indigenous men. The ceremony also focused on Wadjemup or Rottnest Island, a now holiday island off the coast of Perth, that was a prison for Aboriginal men for almost a century.

Noongar leader Richard Walley was one of the Elders involved. At the ceremony he explained, “We are not anti-Australian, we are standing today to release the spirit of our ancestors”.

Amnesty International’s Indigenous Rights Manager Tammy Solonec, and a team of activists and staff from the Western Australian office attended the day in support.


“One Day in Freo was a fantastic event, the best Australia Day celebration I’ve ever been to,” said Tammy.

“I spent all day in Freo, starting with the incredibly moving Healing Ceremony in the morning.. So many thoughtful touches to the day made it special, like when all the performers sang Paul Kelly’s, “From Little Things Big Things Grow”.

It was wonderful to have a strong Amnesty presence at the event and to have Amnesty’s support for this movement – thank you to everyone who stood in solidarity with us this year. I know many around the country and our ancestors were standing with us on what was and always will be a very historic day,” said Tammy.

Amnesty International WA staff and activists. © Private
Amnesty International WA staff and activists. © Private

Riley Buchanan, Convenor of the WA Crisis Group, was one of the Amnesty activists who attended. She has shared her reflections with us below:

One Day was just that: one day in a struggle for rights, recognition and reconciliation spanning centuries, with so many steps backward and forward and not always in that order. But the significance of this one day was incalculable. There is something particularly joyful about knowing one single day, or the idea that brought it into being, will resonate for much longer than 24 hours.

Freo’s Esplanade was crowded with families and friends of a swathe of cultures, truly representative of our country’s diversity and many stories. There were picnic rugs and eskies as far as the eye could see. There were 15,000 people. There was a sense of collective recognition that ‘this is important’. There was music and dancing.

There were so many children, some undoubtedly too young to remember being there but may one day reflect on One Day as the inception of a future reality that we can’t yet properly imagine.

There was the transformation of conditions of impossibility into profound possibility.

There was Fremantle: welcoming, innovative, altruistic.

There was community. There was honesty about our history. There was a desire for change and an unsaid yet somehow mutually understood perception that we can make it happen.

In the ongoing, fierce, creative and urgent struggle for Indigenous rights in this country, One Day might be regarded as superficial, and in a way it is. It is a single day in a centuries-long fight, and the many struggles Aboriginal people face today remain.

The resonance of One Day is incalculable, which is to say unknowable but also infinite in possibility. It is in that space of uncertainty where there is the most room to act, for the most change to occur. “

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